The matchgirls’ strike of 1888 at Bryant and May’s match factory in Bow, London was caused by poor working conditions in the match factory, including fourteen-hour workdays, poor pay, excessive fines, and severe health complications. The workers were mainly poorly paid young women who were prone to industrial illnesses, like the bone-rotting "phossy jaw" caused by white phosphorous used in match manufacture. The strike was sparked by the dismissal of one of the workers on or about 2 July 1888.
Social activist, Annie Besant, had become involved in the situation and published an article in her halfpenny weekly paper The Link which angered the Bryant & May management who tried to get their workforce to sign a paper contradicting it, which they refused to do. This led to the dismissal of a worker (on some other pretext), which set off the strike, with approximately 1,400 women and girls refusing to work by the end of the first day.
The strike forced the firm to improve pay and conditions and was seen as a landmark victory in the early years of British socialism. In 1908 the House of Commons passed an Act prohibiting the use of white phosphorus in matches after 31 December 1910.
An Early Day Motion tabled in the UK Parliament in 2020 recognised the match girls as “pioneers of gender equality and fairness at work who through their strike action and formation of the Union of Women Match Makers left a lasting legacy on the trade union movement."
For every tea towel sold we will donate £1 to the Matchgirls Memorial charity which aims to get a statue erected in honour of the matchgirls: https://www.matchgirls1888.org/ms